Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, addresses a gathering during an anti-Imran Khan protest rally in Quetta on July 25, 2019. Photo: AFP / Banaras Khan

Recently Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) summoned Maryam Nawaz, the political heir and daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, to appear before a joint investigative team and present documents regarding land acquired by her in 2013.

Maryam, who has not been visibly active in politics for a long time, has always been perceived as a threat by the current government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and many in the military establishment know that if anyone in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) can challenge it, it is she.

So it was always obvious that Maryam would never be spared by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who can never rise above vindictiveness and political enmity, and the establishment would always use her as a bargaining chip to keep her father down. So on Tuesday, Maryam will appear before the NAB, and perhaps this will satisfy the egos of Khan and his backers.

Dangerous games

Politics in countries like Pakistan where the invisible players pull the strings is a dangerous profession, especially when challenging the establishment in a country where the majority of the population awaits a hero to free them from their chains.

Pakistan has seen many popular leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto meet their ends, and while people ranging from Fatima Jinnah to thrice-elected prime minister Sharif termed security threats and traitors.

And it’s not only politics that is a risky business; so is journalism, especially in the current circumstances when the powerful establishment can see no way out of the political and economic turmoil it created.

It is difficult for any political party or popular leader to end the hegemony of the establishment while the majority of the population is happy to criticize but never want to come out of their own comfort zones.

Maryam’s ‘accountability’ case

To give the move against Maryam Nawaz the appearance of balance, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, a member of the ruling PTI, has also been ordered to appear before the NAB in a case pertaining to the granting of a liquor license to a hotel in Lahore.

However, the accountability process in essence lost its credibility long ago, and a few weeks back when the Supreme Court of Pakistan grilled the NAB over its victimization of political figure in the name of fighting corruption, it demonstrated that the process was designed to satisfy small men sitting in big offices and to undermine dissenting political leaders.

For Maryam, it has been a tough ride, as not only has she had to fight against the invisible forces but has had to prove her mettle by keeping her party intact against the onslaught of Imran Khan and his backers. Many criticize her for not being vocal since her father left the country for medical treatment in England, and many accuse her party of trying to make a deal with the establishment to rise to power again.

However, while it is true that on a few occasions the main opposition parties the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have let their voters down by giving support to bills presented by the government in the National Assembly, the fact remains that the path to democratic supremacy is not a cakewalk, especially in a country where even the most popular leaders can be imprisoned or even killed and where dissident journalists can go missing at any time.

One can complain about political parties in Washington or for that matter in London not being ideal, but in Pakistan, where the Bhutto were murdered and Sharif was humiliated and sent to prison for the second time, comparing this country with an ideal world is not fair. After all, how many people in Pakistan, despite knowing who actually usurps their civil liberties and takes the major chunk of the resources, can dare put their and their families lives at risk by taking those forces on?

A country where most of the politicians even in the mainstream parties are opportunists or lack the courage to stand against the invisible forces and where most journalists work as touts of the invisible forces, it is highly unrealistic for the masses to expect political leaders to pull off a miracle and defeat the undemocratic forces quickly. It will take time, and perhaps Maryam with her aggressive political strategy in 2018 and 2019 not only saved her father but also created a hole in the ship of the current hybrid regime.

If she were irrelevant or Sharif were totally out of the game and the current regime were experiencing smooth sailing, she would never have been bothered again, and Khan and his backers would not have lodged a new case against her. It is pretty simple; Sharif is willing to wait, as he has ample time and perhaps the more time he gives to Khan and his backers, the more embarrassment they will face, as a country right now is heading nowhere.

After the recent diplomatic rift with Riyadh, the options are almost ending for Khan and his backers, while Sharif has a lot of options available. He is even respected in Beijing, which remains the source of vital support for Islamabad, while his close ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are not hidden from anyone.

Those who know Sharif can tell easily that he will wait patiently and will never forgive those who humiliated him and his daughter through the accountability courts.

When former dictator Pervez Musharraf ousted Sharif and was almost set to hang him before then-US president Bill Clinton intervened, Sharif made a tactical retreat by signing a deal with Musharraf. But he returned, and brought a high-treason case against Musharraf.

So many in the establishment know it is not only about losing the game of power but it is also about their survival, and perhaps that is why Sharif is not interested in any in-house change in government. as he knows that the establishment is being pushed further on to the back foot with the passage of time.

Anyone familiar with power politics can easily understand that no one provokes his opponent unless he is insecure or losing control of the game. As far as Maryam is concerned, she has been playing it wisely. When her defiance was needed, she led the charge from the front and got her party a fair number of seats in the National Assembly through her narrative despite the rigging of the ballot.

Tuesday’s NAB proceeding, like the previous ones, again will bear no fruit, and it will only establish the fact that Khan still has not learned the art of rising above petty politics, while his backers are becoming weaker with the passage of time.

For Maryam, this case means nothing, as she has seen all the tactics of her opponents, and long before she began down this path where even the stalwarts of her own party were afraid to go, she knew that it would be the toughest battle of her life. Right now she may be feeling the heat, but it will not last long, and sooner or later she will prevail over her detractors.

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.